Christian persecution may seem like a thing of the past, but the human reality is that Christians are under attack not just by jihadists in the Middle East but also by Islamist radicals such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, and nationalist Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Other countries, such as Kenya, North Korea, Sudan, Indonesia, and Egypt, are affected also. The Christian Science Monitor Weekly’s article by Christa Case Bryant documents very well the plight of these individuals and churches (“What the Middle East would be like without Christians,” December 16, 2013).
One encouraging thought is what happened to the man Saul who, “breathing out threatenings and slaughter” against the early Christians, chose to head down the road to Damascus on his mission (see Acts 9:1–20). He had no idea that this journey would give him an indelible and inspiring role in Christian history.
The message of these two great spiritual leaders is clear: Hatred has no place in the heart of a Christian, even when it may seem justified.
On that road, Saul had a vision of Christ Jesus, not as an enemy, but as one whose mercy and goodness literally reformed his thoughts and within a short time made him the most ardent disciple of them all. We know him now as Paul. From the time he took up this ministry until his death in Rome, there was no task too large or too small if it involved preaching the gospel. He was beaten, imprisoned, attacked, in at least one shipwreck, and yet he persevered in his conviction of Christ’s love.
Mary Baker Eddy had her own experiences of persecution from family and from those who rejected her ministry because she was a woman. Others hated her because they didn’t understand what Christian Science really is. Rather than become embittered, she wrote: “Be patient towards persecution. Injustice has not a tithe of the power of justice. Your enemies will advertise for you. … Persecution is the weakness of tyrants engendered by their fear, and love will cast it out” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 191).
In this, as in all things, she was following in the steps of Christ Jesus. He lived and proved the power of love, and told his disciples, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44, 45).
The message of these two great spiritual leaders is clear: Hatred has no place in the heart of a Christian, even when it may seem justified. Rather, such incidents should motivate us to love more deeply the spiritual nature that each individual actually has as the idea, or reflection, of God. Insisting on the dominion of spiritual reality is insisting on the power of ever-present, omnipotent Love. This is the power that changed Paul’s life forever on the road to Damascus. This is the power that will change today’s persecutors also.